The Magic Mystery Tour…50-year anniversary of historic Wings visit

February 7th, 2022

University staff and students were left stunned when Paul McCartney and his newly formed band ‘Wings’ turned up for an impromptu gig in the Portland Ballroom, University Park campus.

Wednesday 9 February 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of the historic visit, which was completely unplanned, unannounced and unexpected.

The idea of the Wings tour of 1972, the year before the release of Band on the Run, was that the band would literally turn up at universities unannounced and ask to play.

In an interview with Will Hodgkinson of The Times McCartney said: “To give you a taste of what it was like, we would look at a map and say, ‘Ashby-de-la-Zouch . . we like the sound of that. So we drove there, and no offence to the people of Ashby-de-la-Zouch, but it didn’t seem like much more than a signpost.

“Then we discovered that Nottingham University was nearby so we showed up there. Our roadie went up to the bar and said, ‘I’ve got Paul McCartney in the car park, wondering if he can do a gig’. The guy said ‘pull the other one’ before being convinced to come out to the car park. I’d be there waving out of an old van.”

You can hear former Wings guitarist Henry McCullough talk about the impromptu gig when he returned to The University of Nottingham with the BBC’s One Show in 2012.

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February 8th, 2022 at 1:22 pm

Denise Sweeney

It’s great that you are sharing your memory/recollection of this concert. History in the making so to say. I remember taking a photo of the blue plaque when I first started at the university a few years ago (having had the Band on the run album as a teenager and a fan of Wings). Is the plaque actually visible? I recall in the renovations of the student union building that the plaque was obscured. Maybe a clear panel might be a good way to have it on view and not forgotten.

February 8th, 2022 at 2:20 pm

Tracy Sisson

I was too young for the Wings gig, but saw a couple of bands in Portland in the early-mid 80’s. The Uni gig scene is sorely missed.

February 25th, 2022 at 6:46 pm

Kamy Zargarpour

I was front row!! what a concert .. Just remember people running round saying come to Portland for a concert… sitting up so close to see Paul and Linda on stage .. was a memorable day for sure. Hope some people will post their photos .. as I did not take any.

February 25th, 2022 at 7:02 pm

Phil Roberts

I was there and still have the hastily produced Roneo (pre Xerox) flyer with the 40p admission charge on it. Phil Roberts, Architecture

February 25th, 2022 at 8:02 pm

Barbara Hulse

I’m proud to say I was there! The rumour spread rapidly and when we realised it was true we hot footed it to PB. I still have my Band on the Run LP. I can’t remember if I skipped a lecture but I suspect many of us did. A once-in-a-lifetime experience!

February 26th, 2022 at 8:01 am

Caroline Phillips

Would be great to hear from a student who actually went to the gig! Been watching the excellent ‘Let it Be’ documentary on Disney Plus.

February 26th, 2022 at 9:56 am

Elaine Woodhams nee Smith

This report is somewhat inaccurate. The ‘guy’ in the bar was in fact female- it was me , I was Social Secretary at the time.
It was by no means the first and only big name ‘pop’concert held at Nottingham University.
It was PRECEDED by names such as The Who, Curved Air and many others as concerts were held every Saturday. So yes You tube the One Show to get the story from those who were there.

February 26th, 2022 at 11:26 am

Gordon Nudd

There were plenty of big names! in the 60s, Animals, etc etc

February 26th, 2022 at 12:20 pm

Julie Gadsden

I was downstairs in Portland Building when Wings turned up to play. Word went round that they were there, but I couldn’t be bothered to go upstairs to the ballroom to see them. I’d moved on in my musical tastes from the days of the Beatles and thought McCartney was a bit old hat.

February 26th, 2022 at 1:19 pm

Norman Byrom

I remember that gig well because I missed it. I was doing a PhD in the chemistry department and used to go up to Portland building for lunch every day. Unfortunately on that day I had an experiment I didn’t want to leave so didn’t go up. Of course no such things as mobile phones in those days so didn’t know anything about it until couple of colleagues returned with the news.

February 26th, 2022 at 1:44 pm

Gerry Bassingthwaighte

I was in my second year studying electrical and electronic engineering. Most days we would walk up to PB for lunch, but for reason we didn’t that day. Imagine my annoyance when I was told by a friend later that day that Paul McCartney’s new band has played an impromptu gig on campus.

February 26th, 2022 at 5:37 pm

David Scott

I remember Social Sec Margot (McDonald?) telling us how this guy came down to the buttery one night saying there’s a guy called Paul McCartney wants to see you about doing a gig tomorrow. After the expletives of misbelief the gig was arranged. The income and publicity from the gig came at an ideal time for the SU which was suffering from a large deficit caused by a previous treasurer dipping his hand in the till!

February 26th, 2022 at 7:57 pm

Bert Keizer

We just cdn’t believe our eyes. Here was Paul McCartney strolling into the big upstairs coffeebar of the Union Building asking: shall we do a gig?
We were so proud that he hit on us at Nottingham. We had no idea that other universities wd be visited as well. We presumed that he was on his way from Scotland to London, driving down the M1 and thought at Nottingham: ah well, let’s just give them a wonderful fright.
I’ll never forget it.

February 26th, 2022 at 8:24 pm


Only big name band at the university? What about Beefhart and the Magic Band? Last day of end of year exams ’72 or ’73?

February 28th, 2022 at 9:15 am

Cyrus M

Hi Steve, thanks for getting in touch. We completely take your point – the article has been edited to remove that fact.

February 27th, 2022 at 6:54 pm

Lilian Crawford

I was in PB that day and saw the chalk board announcing that Wings was there to play . One of the best moments ever ! Paul McCartney was my favourite Beatle and kept me sane in my teens. To hear the band and to see Paul’s family, I even walked past them but was too shy to ask for an autograph, I’ve always regretted that. I also remember thinking that studying at Nottingham University was the most life changing opportunity and a privilege.
The Student Union booked some amazing groups in PB , Black Sabbath, T Rex , Ralf McTell and many more. My degree was Social Administration, 1969 to 1972 and in 1973 an MA in Social Work. Excellent teaching , encouragement and kindness were the hallmarks of my time at Nottingham University and the social life was amazing too !

February 27th, 2022 at 10:44 pm

John Peake

Much as it pains me to disagree with the great man himself, I’m afraid Sir Paul’s recollection of Wings’ arrival at the University differs from my own.

And not only that, but the account given by Elaine Woodhams, SU Social Secretary 1972, in the BBC One Show story, is, according to my own recollection, almost entirely false!

This is what happened, I assure you.

At about 9am that day I was coming out of the front entrance of PB (Portland Building) – probably missing a lecture. As I came through the revolving doors I was absolutely stunned to see none other than Paul McCartney coming up the steps towards me, with Linda (youngster in arms) following a couple of steps behind, and another guy a bit behind her!

The scene is vividly etched in my memory.

Paul said hello, and something to the effect that they wanted to play a gig and could I show them where the Social office was. Struck almost dumb I said something like ‘Wow! Yes… follow me.’

Anyway, I turned around, and led them into PB. We turned right, walked along the corridor a bit, then right again and into the Social office. There were a couple of people standing around in there, who also proceeded to freak out as McCartney said cheers, I think, and began to ask whether they could play a gig. At this point I made my exit. I immediately rushed downstairs to the coffee bar, in a state of high excitement, to spread the news that McCartney was here. Anyway, come midday or thereabouts, Wings played their first gig to a packed ballroom. I was there, at the front, and recall so well their opening (Little Richard) number: Lucille.

So, there you have it… pretty trivial, I know. But for what it’s worth it’s the truth, the way it happened, I assure you.

February 27th, 2022 at 10:57 pm

John Peake

And by the way, the statement:

“This was the first and only ‘big-name’ pop concert played at The University of Nottingham.”

is just not true! I was at Nottingham 1969-72 and we had The Who definitely once, possibly twice, Rod Stewart and The Faces, and several other big bands whose names escape me. Nottingham was on the University circuit back then.

February 28th, 2022 at 9:14 am

Cyrus M

Hi John – thanks for getting in touch and for the excellent recollection. The article has been updated to reflect that fact.

February 28th, 2022 at 7:53 am

John Bailey

I was on Social committee and one of the group in the Buttery when the porters came down to say Paul Macartney was outside.
Ignoring it as a wind up we only changed our minds when Henry Mcullough came down.
No social media then but we put the word out and the rest is history.
Afterwards I remember we had to deal with a complaint to the VC from the library about the noise level in the middle of the day.

February 28th, 2022 at 8:57 pm

Peter Wakefield

I was also there that day and couldn’t believe our luck that Paul Macartney had turned up to test out how his new band would be received.
He sang a new song “give Ireland back to the Irish” that he said he had just written, this was a red hot political issue at the time and the first and only time I have heard him get involved in politics. 50 years on a clear memory.
Back then Nottingham was a true campus university, everything happened on campus and there was a real buzz to campus life. Add to the list of performing groups, Free, Wishbone Ash and a non appearance by Derick & the Dominoes, (Eric Clapton), booked but failed to show up.

March 1st, 2022 at 3:10 pm

Mark Everett

I too was there, and John Peake’s recollection of how it happened is exactly as I remember the story of how/why the great man decided to choose our university for Wings’ first gig. I’ve bored friends and family with it ever since.
But, two things. First, the unplanned gig in PB got in the way of DramSoc selling tickets for the next show: a particular irritation to me as I was Publicity Officer at the time. Secondly, the gig itself was a bit short and it was evident that the band was (then) lacking in material. I don’t know why I was disappointed by this because I was utterly gobsmacked by being at the first ever. Such is youth!
And DramSoc, plus a degree in philosophy, was the beginning of a 43 year career in British theatre management. I’m not exaggerating when I say I owe everything to three years at our still brilliant university.

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